Well, this was… not good. Which pains me to say, since I was a huge fan of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series (even if Allegiant epically let me down). I’m having a bit of a hard time pinpointing exactly what I disliked so much about this, which probably just means that every aspect of this book overall was just a big ball of mess.
A lot of reviewers have also brought up the problematic aspects of the story, especially where the characterization is concerned. The conflict between the peace-loving Thuvhe people and the “savage” and brutal Shotet is very one-note and lacking in nuance, and many people have problems with the racial undertones with regards to physical and cultural descriptions. Initially, I didn’t really see the issue with it; this is science fiction and this is just a story for enjoyment. After some giving it some thought, however, I have come to the conclusion that there are dangerous real-world implications associated with the way that Roth has created her two cultures in the Carve the Mark world. There are other ways portray to cultural differences in fiction other than describing the Thuvhe language with words such as “soft” and “musical,” as compared to the Shotet language which is “harsh and guttural.” Many authors have created much richer worlds and cultures without resorting to such lazy descriptions.
In this world, everyone possesses a unique currentgift. Some currentgifts are useful, some not so much. Cyra’s currentgift manifests after her brother, who has the ability to trade memories with others, forcibly transfers to her a memory of pain. The traumatic experience awakens her power to cause immeasurable pain to others, but she herself is a victim of her currentgift as well, experiencing chronic pain every waking moment. Her only respites from the pain come from strong painkillers and from Akos, the kind and brave Thuvhe boy forced to serve Cyra’s family, who has a currentgift that takes away pain. So to sum it up:
- Cyra’s currentgift is a direct manifestation of her brother’s abuse, and while her brother’s cruelty is called out throughout the story, Cyra’s trauma is left pretty much unaddressed
- Relief comes in the form of direct contact with a boy
- Since he is the only one who can touch her and take away her pain, naturally they fall in love and kiss
- Am I the only one who sees a problem with the sentences I just wrote above?
Sure, Carve the Mark turned out to be more or less enjoyable, but it doesn’t change the fact that nothing was well-developed. The characters, the setting, the plot, it just all fell flat. The book’s summary describes Cyra as “resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.” I didn’t see that. Akos is “generous in spirit” and loyal. That’s pretty much all he is. I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care about the conflict, and I didn’t know who I was rooting for in the end.
The plot itself moves at a painfully glacial pace. I could probably sum up the entire plot for you in about four sentences, which in my opinion is never a good thing to say about a story because it just means that everything that happens in between those four sentences has absolutely no bearing on the story and is utterly forgettable. If I wanted to read a story that simple, I would pick up a 30-page children’s book and not waste the time getting through a 480 page book.
I’ll probably read the sequel because sometimes I do things against my better judgement. I don’t think I’ll enjoy it.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5